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25 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time According to CEO of Stripe, Patrick Collison

When it comes to book recommendations, who better to trust than a successful CEO with a penchant for intellectual curiosity?

Patrick Collison, the CEO of Stripe, is known for his eclectic taste in literature, and he shared his list of the best nonfiction books of all time.

Whether you're a history buff, a science enthusiast, or simply looking to expand your horizons, Collison's list has something for everyone.

Affiliate Disclaimer: This post features Amazon affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through these links.

Robert J. Gordon's meticulously researched tome offers a sweeping examination of the American experience since the Civil War. He dissects the factors that fueled unprecedented economic growth and later explores the challenges that have confronted the nation, providing valuable insights into the evolution of the American standard of living.

“If the automobile had followed the same development as the computer, a Rolls Royce would today cost $100 and get a million miles per gallon, and explode once a year killing everyone inside. —Robert X. Cringely, InfoWorld magazine”― Robert J. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War

Rebecca Goldstein, a philosopher and novelist, delves into the intricate philosophical conundrum of the mind-body relationship. She guides readers through centuries of thought, engaging with great minds like Descartes and Turing, ultimately illuminating the complexities of consciousness and identity.

“Contempt for the unfit is stronger, I think, than disdain for the plain. Perhaps because of the passivity of beauty? But no, intelligence is every bit as passive, a gift either granted or denied. And yet the scorn felt for the unintelligent is an almost moral outrage.”― Rebecca Goldstein, The Mind-Body Problem

This comprehensive collection compiles the wisdom of Charles T. Munger, the brilliant investor, and Warren Buffett's partner. Munger's insights on investing, decision-making, and life itself are presented with humor and wisdom, making this book a treasure trove for those seeking success in various aspects of life.

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn't read all the time -- none, zero. You'd be amazed at how much Warren reads--and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I'm a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”― Charles T. Munger, Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger

K. C. Cole brings us into the life and world of Frank Oppenheimer, brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the founder of the famed Exploratorium in San Francisco. This narrative reveals how Oppenheimer's innovative approach to science education revolutionized how we learn about the world around us.

Thomas Petzinger Jr.'s book immerses readers in the turbulent world of the airline industry. It exposes the high-stakes battles for control and profits that led to chaos within the industry, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the fascinating history of commercial aviation.

Garry Wills provides an incisive portrait of Richard Nixon, one of the most enigmatic figures in American political history. Wills dives deep into Nixon's complex psyche, tracing his journey from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of power and the ultimate crisis of his presidency.

“[T]he American fanatic has always suffered moral disorientation at the mere thought of anyone 'getting something for nothing'.”― Garry Wills, Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man

M. Mitchell Waldrop paints a vivid picture of J.C.R. Licklider, a visionary whose ideas paved the way for the personal computer revolution. This book explores the fascinating journey from Licklider's groundbreaking work to the digital age we now inhabit.

“Nonetheless, his vision of high technology’s enhancing and empowering the individual, as opposed to serving some large institution, was quite radical for 1939—so radical, in fact, that it wouldn’t really take hold of the public’s imagination for another forty years, at which point it would reemerge as the central message of the personal-computer revolution.”― M. Mitchell Waldrop, The Dream Machine

Evan Osnos takes readers on a captivating journey through modern China, a nation of remarkable ambition and transformation. Through personal stories and encounters, Osnos unravels the complexities of China's rapid growth, exploring themes of wealth, truth, and faith in a changing society.

“Hope is like a path in the countryside: originally there was no path, but once people begin to pass, a way appears.”― Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

Stephen Webb's book engages with the enduring mystery of the Fermi Paradox. Webb presents fifty intriguing solutions to the question of why, given the vastness of the universe, we have not yet encountered extraterrestrial civilizations, inviting readers to ponder the possibilities.

“Believing the world is calm because we have never seen it otherwise is like taking the attitude of a man who jumps off the top of a tall building and figures that, since 29 of the 30 floors have passed without incident, he is going to be okay.”― Stephen Webb, If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens... Where Is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to Fermi's Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life

David Deutsch's thought-provoking work explores the power of explanations in shaping our understanding of the world. He argues that humanity stands at the threshold of an infinite quest for knowledge and understanding, providing a compelling vision of progress and discovery.

“Some people become depressed at the scale of the universe, because it makes them feel insignificant. Other people are relieved to feel insignificant, which is even worse. But, in any case, those are mistakes. Feeling insignificant because the universe is large has exactly the same logic as feeling inadequate for not being a cow. Or a herd of cows. The universe is not there to overwhelm us; it is our home, and our resource. The bigger the better.”― David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

This collection of interviews from The Paris Review showcases in-depth conversations with some of the world's most celebrated authors. Readers gain unique access to the creative process and the inner workings of literary giants, making this an invaluable resource for literature enthusiasts.

Seymour Papert's "Mindstorms" is a seminal work in the field of education and computer programming. He introduces readers to the concept of constructionism, where learning is driven by hands-on experience, particularly in programming and robotics, offering a pioneering approach to education.

Philip P. Pan provides a deeply personal and illuminating account of China's transformation in the post-Mao era. Through compelling narratives and on-the-ground reporting, he explores the struggles and aspirations of the Chinese people as they grapple with their nation's complex history.

Alexis de Tocqueville's classic work on democracy in America remains as relevant today as when it was first published. In this abridged edition, he provides keen observations on American society, government, and culture, offering enduring insights into the nature of democracy.

“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Douglas R Hofstadter's collection of essays offers a mesmerizing journey through a wide range of topics, from art and science to cognition and creativity. His writings challenge conventional thinking and celebrate the intricacies of human thought and expression, making this book a true intellectual adventure.

“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order - and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.”― Douglas R. Hofstadter, Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern

Jason K. Stearns provides an unflinching examination of the Democratic Republic of Congo's tumultuous history, chronicling its descent into chaos and conflict. This book sheds light on the complex web of politics, violence, and human suffering that has engulfed this African nation.

“Such is the human being: when he is afraid, he sees enemies everywhere and thinks the only chance to stay alive is to exterminate them.”― Jason Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa

Richard W. Hamming's book offers invaluable lessons on problem-solving and creativity in the fields of science and engineering. He shares his insights on how to approach complex challenges with innovation and rigor, making it a must-read for aspiring scientists and engineers.

“What you learn from others you can use to follow. What you learn for yourself you can use to lead.”― Richard Hamming, The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn

Christopher Alexander's groundbreaking work revolutionizes the fields of architecture and urban design. He introduces the concept of patterns and advocates for a human-centered approach to design, emphasizing the creation of harmonious and functional environments.

“towns and buildings will not be able to become alive, unless they are made by all the people in society, and unless these people share a common pattern language, within which to make these buildings, and unless this common pattern language is alive itself.”― Christopher W. Alexander, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction

Peter Norvig's book provides a deep exploration of artificial intelligence through practical case studies in Common Lisp. It serves as an essential resource for those interested in the intricacies of AI programming, offering valuable insights and hands-on examples.

Nick Bostrom delves into the fascinating concept of anthropic bias, exploring how our observations and interpretations of the universe are influenced by the very fact of our existence. This book presents a thought-provoking exploration of the philosophy of science.

Simon Winchester embarks on a mesmerizing journey across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. In this epic narrative, he weaves together the diverse cultures, histories, and geopolitical forces that shape the Pacific, offering a panoramic view of this vital region's past and future.

Elting E. Morison examines the intricate relationship between technology and society, exploring how machines have profoundly shaped the modern world. Through a historical lens, he delves into how technology has influenced human progress and culture, shedding light on the complexities of this dynamic relationship.

“To live safely in our society, let alone manage it, will require a continuous education until a man dies.”― Elting E. Morison, Men, Machines, and Modern Times, 50th Anniversary Edition

Walter J. Ong's seminal work explores the profound impact of oral and written communication on human culture and thought. He traces the historical shift from oral traditions to literacy, offering a comprehensive analysis of how these changes have influenced human cognition and communication.

“Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but normally even when it is composing its thoughts in oral form. More than any other single invention, writing has transformed human consciousness.”― Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word

Rick Perlstein provides an in-depth look at the rise of Richard Nixon and the fracturing of American society during a pivotal period in the nation's history. This book offers a comprehensive analysis of the political and social upheaval of the time, providing critical insights into the era.

“In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words: from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.”― Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

Ji Xianlin's memoir offers a deeply personal and harrowing account of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Through his firsthand recollections, readers gain intimate insights into the tumultuous events and ideological struggles that defined this transformative period in Chinese history.


If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out more similar list on my on my blog —

These 25 nonfiction books, as recommended by Patrick Collison, cover a wide range of topics, from history and science to politics and culture.

Whether you're seeking intellectual stimulation, a deeper understanding of the world, or simply an enjoyable read


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